October 6-8, 2017
Amid the scenic background of the Star Lake Camp and Conference Center young vocalists from throughout the Eastern Territory gathered over Columbus Day Weekend for the Singing Stars Weekend.
Hosted by the Eastern Territorial Songsters, and with the generous support of the Green Family Foundation and Salvationist Publishing and Supplies, the Singing Stars Weekend provided 47 musicians with an opportunity to develop their skills while sharing enriching times of fellowship with both their peers and members of the ETS.
The guest for the weekend was Lesley Nicholson, Songster Leader at the Birmingham Citadel Corps in England and member of the International Staff Songsters.
“What a great weekend,” gushed Gavin Whitehouse, the ETS Leader who, along with the ETS Executive Committee, put together a program that included intense rehearsals, a special Saturday night recital and a Sunday afternoon concert at the College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y. “The spirit definitely moved in preparation for the weekend, from choice of music to the devotional times. The Singing Stars responded well to the music and directions by myself and Lesley. To learn 11 songs in the space of two days is a real challenge and they rose to the challenge.”
The inclusion of S/L Nicholson brought a dynamic presence to the weekend. With a wealth of experience as a vocalist and vocal leader, she brought an element of practical instruction presented in an engaging manner that captured the attention of the vocalists in attendance.
“Lesley did a great job of talking about vocal technique in amongst teaching and molding the songs she had selected,” noted Whitehouse.
Delegates began trickling in on Friday afternoon and were put to work right away with two evening rehearsals. In between rehearsals, devotions were brought by Captain Swetha Vincent from The Salvation Army’s International Social Justice Commission. Drawing from her experiences working with victims of human trafficking, Captain Vincent inspired both the delegates and members of the ETS with moving accounts of how God has worked in damaged lives.
As part of the devotional times, ETS members were partnered with delegates. These were particularly memorable moments for personal spiritual growth.
Saturday included more rehearsals as the vocalists tackled an ambitious repertoire in preparation for a Sunday Finale.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a Saturday evening recital by Danielle Beckvermit, who came to The Salvation Army through the Kingston, N.Y., Corps, then developed her skills through Army music programs before completing a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance. Danielle demonstrated her considerable talent during a recital that included classical, spirituals and Broadway selections. She was accompanied on piano by Lily Finikin, who provided brilliant support throughout the weekend as the Accompanist for ETS.
For S/L Whitehouse, it was especially satisfying to witness the progression and development of his former protégé.
“Danielle’s recital was fantastic,” he said. “For me, personally, it has been a real joy to see Danielle progress from a young 13-year-old with a nice voice to the young lady that she is today. Danielle was a vocal major at the Greater New York Senior Conservatory over a number of summers and joined the GNY Youth Chorus in 2006. She was very involved in music at the Kingston Corps and also competed in Territorial Star Search a number of years.
“As an Assistant Music Director in Greater New York, visiting the corps regularly to help with the music programs, I started teaching Danielle piano, but she would always be wanting to sing what she was working on for school after the lessons were over. After completing her undergraduate studies, Danielle moved back to New York City to complete her Master’s and sang with the GNY Youth Chorus as her schedule allowed.”
As the weekend activities moved into Sunday a special spiritual climate grew through the relationships that had been built in the previous days. Sunday morning worship was a particularly spiritually rewarding time as testimonies were shared by delegates and S/L Nicholson who spoke about her experiences as a Prison Chaplain in both a High Security Male establishment and a Women’s Prison. Captain Vincent delivered the message followed by a time of response.
After rehearsing diligently for two days, the Singing Stars and ETS joined for a concert at the CFOT.
Setting the table for this musical feast was a piece by S/L Whitehouse, “No Other Name,” a composition that had been percolating for a number of years before the finishing touches were applied only weeks before the Singing Stars weekend.
“The piece had been sitting partially finished in my head for a number of years,” explained Whitehouse. “I can remember working on it one summer at Stark Lake during conservatory. The lyrics of this song come from General John Gowans and it was always one of those songs that came up frequently during Sunday night meetings in Australia. I was thinking about the words of the chorus and the basis of the new melody came, probably inspired by some of the pieces we were using with ETS at the same time such as Andrew Blyth’s ‘Love, Grace and Power.’ It was great to have a brand new piece for the weekend and to open the concert with ‘No Other Name’ I think got us off to a great start.”
A diverse program followed with a Lloyd Larson arrangement of Keith Getty’s “Beneath the Cross” followed by the pulsating arrangement of “Psalm 150” by George Pass. Among the pieces selected by S/L Nicholson was an entertaining spiritual “What the Lord Has Done for Me” by Reuben Morgan. A beautiful arrangement by Graeme Press of the classic “It Is Well With My Soul” led seamlessly into a testimony by S/L Lesley Nicholson.
The most performers-audience interactive piece was one memorized by the Singing Stars and ETS, “Give You the Glory” and featured soloist Devonte Thompson. The high energy of that selection was followed by a traditional Army devotional piece “I Dedicate Myself to Thee” by Brindley Boon.
Following Singing Star Grace Pares’ testimony, a mood of worship was established through a performance of Sally DeFord’s “Miracles” featuring soloist Annastasia Segovia.
Perhaps the signature performance of the afternoon was “A Place of Beginning Again,” from the great musical story teller, Ken Medema. The lengthy piece is an account of John 8:1-11, a story of healing and rebirth. The selection included solos by Singing Stars Sam Laro and Lucas Urbina.
In a fitting conclusion to the Sunday afternoon concert, the joint musical forces of the Singing Stars and ETS presented a piece by Nicholas King with lyrics by S/L Nicholson and King. The song entitled “We Sing for You” posed the question “Why Do We Sing” with the appropriate music response being “We Sing for You.”
Throughout the weekend the motivation for singing became more and more abundantly clear – to present the musical gifts of these Singing Stars back to the Creator of those gifts. To have a weekend dedicated to such a purpose and, with each element coming together as an affirmation of that purpose, was certainly a blessing beyond expectations.
Pictures can be found at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usaeastarts-music/albums/72157687805496121
By Craig Evans (ETS, Tenor)